Even well before I had asthma, I spent a fair amount of time in doctors offices and other clinics during my childhood. Most of the time, I wasn’t sick at all (prior to when I was sixteen, you could probably count on not even one hand, but half a hand, the times I went in for anything beyond a routine checkup), but, since I was born premature, I simply had the full childhood medical experience, with the added bonus of a few specialists thrown in.
Having asthma, though, as well as other specialists still in my world and other random shenanigans, I tend to go to my doctors appointments now a little bit more prepared, so I can get the most out of my fifteen minutes in there. After a series of frustrating appointments dealing with one thing or another, and acquiring some tips from friends who know the chronic disease/asthma world well, here’s the quick lowdown on how I try to prepare for doctors appointments.
- Write it down. It sucks when you leave and remember something important you forgot to ask. Put a note in your phone or on a piece of paper or write it on your hand.
- Bring your “top three.” Time is limited. Some days will just flow better than others. Prioritize your question list—it may be that you can only get your top three answered, and then need to book another appointment. Make sure the most critical questions are answered first.
- How are you? Start the discussion here. Screw the formalities. “Great, how are you?” is the reflex response, but if you’re not great, this is a good time to make that known.
“Well, I’m really struggling with my asthma, so I hope we can begin to get that sorted out today. How are you?” is still polite, but your doc knows you mean business.
- Know which meds you need refilled. I see my asthma specialist now every six months, and my primary care physician every six months (I graduated from every three months last time I was in by being a pest, but then I sliced my finger open about 3 months later and needed her to remove the stitches… Oh well!). It’s sometimes tough to remember what, exactly, do I need, and how many refills. Sometimes, it’s just easiest if you do that math yourself—if your doctor allows it, get one extra refill of everything prescribed, to save you the hassle in the event of travel or something getting lost. (She also automatically prescribes me rescue inhalers in twos, since those are prone to being stolen by gremlins and returned weeks later…)
- Know how often you’re needing certain meds. My doctors, without fail, will ask me how often I need to use my rescue inhaler. And honestly, half the time I don’t know. In the weeks before your appointment, keep tabs on this. If your asthma action plan has you adjusting meds in response to your symptoms, having some information on this can be helpful, too.
- Bring someone with you. I don’t ever really exercise this option for asthma, with the exception of a friend wanting to come see my allergy tests because she thought it was fascinating, but I’ve been the friend to attend an appointment with someone! It’s never a bad thing to have someone else ask questions that you might not think of, or act as an advocate for you!
- Find out how much data they’re going to want at the next appointment. For myself, it was frustrating when I kept symptom and peak flow logs, and my team wasn’t interested. There’s only so much time, though, and those charts are great for you to try and find patterns… but maybe not a wise use of your time in the office. Find out from your team just how much data they’d like—if any—and how they want it presented to be effective. This might take some work on your part, so be honest about how much you’re willing to do, too!
- Summarize other appointments you’ve had, just in case. If you see more than a primary care physician, it may be helpful to jot down a few notes following any other appointments, so you can provide that data to your doctor. Coming up, I’ll see my asthma doctor a week prior to seeing my primary care doctor, so in the event the notes from asthma clinic haven’t arrived yet, I can quickly give my primary doc an update. Your specialists may also want this information, too. (It seemed irrelevant, but at one point in 2013 when I had some significant issues going on with blood transfusions for fibroid related anemia, my lung doc sent her notes to my gynecologist—I appreciated that she placed this much value on communication with my team… even if I didn’t get why!). Summarizing past appointments can also remind you to follow up on tests you may have had done and what those results were, if you weren’t contacted about them.
For the most part, these preparations—that don’t take more than a few minutes—usually help me feel like I’ve had a more successful appointment. And, when you walk in with a piece of paper and a plan of attack that isn’t too lengthy, your doctor knows that you’re committed to an efficient and collaborative appointment.
And, in my opinion, the better I plan, the faster I’m out of there and on to the rest of my life, without worrying if I missed anything. As much as I know my doctors are there if I need them, I’d rather use my time efficiently and spend a few minutes planning than have to spend even more time going back to the clinic to follow up on something I missed!